The Catalan crisis has brought to light the problems Spain has had with democracy since the Franco era. What we are discovering is not pretty – and has little to do with the democratic pretensions of the EU.
Milford Edge is teacher, translator, farmer and blogger at www.barbaryfigs.com, originally from the UK and long-time resident in Spain.
The heat has been turned up on the Catalan pressure cooker again. After five months of phony assertions of Spanish unity by the conservative Partido Popular (PP) government and its supporters – the social democratic Partido Socialista (PSOE) and neo-liberal Ciudadanos (Cs), these same parties have rejected Catalonia’s newly elected president and ministers. They are once again employing the infamous Article 155, which has allowed the government in Madrid to crush Catalonia’s independence movement and impose its rule over the Catalans. This was not unexpected, considering the Spanish government’s track record in disregarding democratic procedure, but that does not make it legal. An undeclared state of emergency continues in Spain. Some are calling it a silent coup d’état.
According to the Spanish government, president Quim Torra’s naming of two politicians currently in prison awaiting trial, Rull and Turull, and of two others in exile, Comín and Puig, is a “provocation”. However, the appointments are legal and cannot justify the continued application of Article 155. In Catalonia, there is a new government but it has the same bitter taste as the 10 October’s simultaneous declaration of independence and imposition of direct rule.
This is just the latest example of the legal abuse suffered in Spain in recent years, with an intensification in Catalonia since last summer. Torra’s appointment and the naming of his cabinet have brought two Spanish government communiqués full of threats. Not publishing the appointments in the Boletín Oficial del Estado (BOE) or the Diari Oficial del Govern de Catalunya (DOGC) has been described as anything from abuse of the law to more evidence of Spain’s coup d’état in Catalonia. The last time was the neutering of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia in 2010.
So the abuse will continue in all strata of Catalan society; it will come from Spanish unionist leaders, the Spanish media and the streets; and it will continue to be barbarous, phobic and mendacious. Toxic unionist propaganda resonates in many a Spanish ear, rouses the basest of nationalist passions, and most importantly wins votes. Article 155’s reference to “any measures necessary” means that, until the government in Madrid likes what it sees – which everyone knows will be never – direct rule of Catalonia will not be lifted. This is the bottom line. Everything else is pantomime.
On the investiture of Torra as the 131st president of Catalonia, Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, and his government initially took the position that they would reapply Article 155 at the slightest sign of “wrongdoing” from the new Catalan government. But the week long one-upmanship battle between Albert Rivera, leader of Ciudadanos, and Pedro Sánchez, leader of PSOE , left him looking weak in unionist eyes, and he has been forced to give up any pretence of leading a fully democratic country. In Spain, everyone is accustomed to PSOE’s anti-Catalanism, in particular that of its “barons”. Historically speaking, there is little to choose between the PSOE and PP brands of anti-Catalanism, aside from the false ray of hope offered by former socialist prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero regarding the Catalan Statute of Autonomy. Zapatero is now a fully paid-up member of the barons’ club and PSOE’s much questioned leader is taking an increasingly hard line on the Catalan situation.
On admitting the deficiencies of the rebellion law – the prerequisite of violence – Sánchez proposed adapting the penal code rather than releasing the falsely imprisoned. He has shouted “Torra is a xenophobe” as loudly, if not louder, than anyone else. As ever, it is the victim’s fault in Spain, for provoking the aggressor. Spanish rule of law is only for some.
Rivera spent the week trying to outdo Sánchez, calling for extended and stricter direct rule involving seizure of the Corporació Catalana de Mitjans Audiovisuals (CCMA) – TV3, CatRadio, etc – and control of the Catalan school system. José Ignacio Wert’s mission to ‘hispanicise the Catalans’ via a now abrogated education law ultimately failed. To modify the Catalan education now via the backdoor using Article 155 would, of course, also be illegal. He also has the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police force, in his sights and, of course, added his vociferous voice to the chorus of ‘xenophobe’ and ‘supremacist’ on countless occasions.
Ciudadanos ended the weekend launching a civil organisation called España Ciudadana – Spanish Citizenry. Yes, a political party has launched a grassroots civil organisation, and included its own name in the title. Ciudadanos’ populism is of the more shameless variety. This platform will promote “pride in feeling Spanish” and a Spain that is One, Great and Free. España Ciudadana’s mission statement sounds just like José Antonio Primo de Rivera’s Twenty-Six Point Manifesto of the Spanish Falange, published in 1933.
Even the far-left party Podemos offers no succour and no resistance. The argument is that Podemos is an anti-nationalist party and that part of the secessionist movement comes from the traditional Catalan centre-right. Pablo Echenique, Podemos representative in the Aragon Court, published a tweet celebrating Barcelona mayor Ada Colau’s diverse Spanish origins and implying that this was a problem for many Catalans. That was an insult to all those Catalans with non-Catalan family or ancestors who have no problem with either Colau’s racial make-up or Catalan secessionism, a significant part of the Catalan population. Echenique was some years ago a Ciudadanos voter affiliated to the party after his “neoliberal phase”.
Skeletons in closets, ideological flexibility and defections are common in Spanish politics, and gradual migrations from far-left to far-right not unknown. Carlos Girauta, Rivera’s henchman in Congress has been a militant in PSOE, PP and now Ciudadanos, the only constant his rabid anti-Catalanism, Spain’s most unifying force.
Lastly, mention must be made of VOX, the final political party in the unionist bloc. Founded by former PP politicians, this unrepresented ultranationalist and truly xenophobic party is responsible for the private prosecutions against all pro-independence politicians and civil leaders. It also sent a letter to the Schleswig-Holstein court dealing with Spain’s request for the extradition of former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont: it urged the court to reconsider its rejection of the rebellion charge, pointing to similarities between Puigdemont and, you guessed it, Hitler. VOX are the legal backup. VOX also seeks the illegalisation of secessionist Catalan parties.
The political forces ranged against the Catalan government are potent. The obstacles placed in the way of the formation of a government in Catalonia reveal the Spanish State’s will to avoid relinquishing any control of Catalonia. The pro-independence parties’ candidate lists were accepted by the Spanish government, but the resultant parliamentary majority they gained was the wrong result for Spanish unionism, so it was met with mockery.
Meanwhile, on Spain’s national public channel RTVE there is an ongoing protest by female staff about censorship and pay parity for women: @mujerasrtve. The only people’s pay parity Ciudadanos have ever demonstrated about is that of the police that beat Catalan voters on October Ist. The double standards in Spanish politics are breath taking.
The Catalan media has been put under a microscope never used on the Spanish media. When shock jock, Jiménez Losantos, last week talked of “bombarding Barcelona” and “Catalans with their little yellow stains”, a reference to the identifying badges the Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, you get an idea of not only the hatred with which the Catalans are seen by many in Spain, but also the constant threat of violence. Though a symbol of solidarity, the yellow ribbon has been turned into a target by irresponsible unionist politicians. Many Ciudadanos are irresponsible enough to actually participate in the violent cleansing of yellow from Catalonia, flanked by members of Fascist groups.
The legal abuse has also been implacable in its defence of Spanish unity. On December 21st there was an election which had only one acceptable result – a Spanish Unionist victory. Since then judicial appeals have been rejected before they have been heard and future judicial decisions announced by Spanish government ministers. The Supreme Court’s Pablo Llarena has clocked up nine pre-trial imprisonments, rejected all appeals and produced some of the most fantastical resolutions and indictments. The High Court’s Carmen Lamela has indicted a string of artists and activists on charges of terrorism, glorifying terrorism and injuries to the crown. Lenient sentencing of gender violence does nothing to help the tarnished image of the Spanish judiciary either, and nor does its repeated failure to force the extradition of Catalan politicians in exile.
For Catalan secessionists to put up with so much abuse, provocation and violence without resorting to violence themselves is impressive. To be honest, I don’t know how they do it. Nobody’s perfect, why should they be? And why the need to lie, insult, abuse and assault? Are there no reasonable arguments in favour of Spanish union? It seems the unity of Spain has primacy over any ethical or legal code so anything goes.
While the Catalans still say sorry for existing, the Spanish never say sorry for anything and, if Rivera’s España Ciudadana gets its way, never will. Why should they? Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos, blamed the Catalan secessionists for awakening the Spanish nationalist beast and now Torra is to blame for Article 155 not being lifted. As ever, everything is the Catalans’ own damn fault.